Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Guest Entry - "This Comic Is Bad - Team Titans #1"

"I always get a kick out of Comics Should Be Good. Because, really, this blog communicates something very vital and important which we should all keep close to our hearts: comics should be good. It goes without saying that oftentimes they’re not.

So, of course I was flattered when Brian asked me if I’d like to contribute a guest installment. It would have perhaps been better if the invitation hadn’t been phrased as something along the lines “hey, Old Man, aren’t you supposed to be dead yet?” But really, I’m just glad someone noticed that, yes, I am still alive!

Where to begin with Team Titans . . . ah yes. This was one of the absolute worst examples of 90s excess. Many new number ones back in those days, like today, had variant covers. But Team Titans was different - Team Titans #1 had variant interiors. Yes, there were five different versions of the first issue, with different lead stories in each. See, there were five new characters introduced here, and five different origins to recap. At $1.75 a pop, that added up to $8.75 for anyone who wanted to read the entire story - no small chunk of change, even by today’s standards.

By the way, did I mention that Team Titans #1 was also part three of a nine part crossover with New Titans and Deathstroke? (Wait, with the five variant editions of TT #1, wasn’t it technically a thirteen part crossover?) Yeah. See, I figure that about this time, everyone at DC was trying to convince themselves that, just because Teen Titans had been - for a very brief time in the early 80s - a sales leader on par with X-Men, the franchise still had enough legs to support an entire family of titles. Well, Team Titans only lasted two whole years before it was not only cancelled but retconned out of existence, which should tell you something about how successful a notion that turned out to be.

This is one of those books that DC probably regrets publishing. In addition to the numerous questionable marketing decisions involved in the launch, reading the story is just sort of painful. Not that the book itself is really that bad - it’s perfectly serviceable, as far as these things go - but because almost everything in this book contradicts something else that has since occurred. If you’re only familiar with the modern day DCU, you need an Ovaltine decoder ring to understand anything. As it is, I needed to consult a couple online fansites myself, and I know a thing or two about convoluted continuity.

For starters, there’s the whole Donna Troy thing. It’s almost become a kind of rite of passage for DC writers: see how badly you can fuck up Donna Troy. Considering that the character was actually created as a result of editorial oversight (long story), it’s like every subsequent editorial generation has somehow felt the need to poke the wound of her anomalous origins. No revamped origin or retcon treatment has been good enough to last more than a few years. No horrible, degrading act has been terrible enough for poor Ms. Troy.

Take, oh, Team Titans #1. For the entire duration of the comic, she’s in labor. Yes, we’re talking half-naked, dripping sweat, grimacing in pain, clutching a white sheet to her chest. There are running firefights going on all around her. Ray-blasts and bullets whizzing through the air. Her son from the future (some bozo named Lord Chaos) has traveled back in time to ensure that he ends up being born so he can conquer the world and bring about a totalitarian regime in roughly the year 1997. Finally, when the child is born - in a stinky, shaking cave, no less - her son from the future (Lord Chaos) grabs her infant son from her gaping womb (not yet Lord Chaos) and blasts poor Donna, seemingly killing her. Of course, she’s obviously not dead yet, because she still had another decade and a half of being brutally murdered and raped ahead of her. Of course, her husband, son and backstory are gone by the time she gets around to waking up in the even less intelligible Return of Donna Troy miniseries.

(You know, I actually liked the first half of John Byrne’s run on Wonder Woman - lots of fun superhero action - but the whole thing about Donna Troy being raped and murdered throughout all of history just seems kind of gratuitous in retrospect, doesn’t it?)

So, where were we? Ah yes, the Team Titans are, um, clones or something who have traveled back from the far future - all the way from 1999, when giant robots ruled the earth - to kill Donna Troy so she doesn’t give birth to Lord Chaos. One of them happens to call herself Terra, but none of the Titans seemed bothered by the presence of someone showing up who just happens to be the spitting image of the girl who betrayed their trust, broke their hearts and tried to kill them.

Deathstroke was apparently a good guy when all this happened. Which I don’t understand, considering that from the little I know of Titans history, he tried to kill the Titans in a number of ways on a number of occasions. Now, of course, he’s a bad guy again, because he’s skulking around those Infinite Crisis crossovers looking all evil and stuff. I’m sure when the other villains ask him what he was doing in 1992 he just sort of coughs and tries to change the subject.

Remember how I said the book only lasted two years? Well, they cancelled this sucker around the time of Zero Hour. They also, coincidentally, used Zero Hour as an excuse to wipe every last vestige of this book under the rug forever. If the whole thing about the alternate future and Lord Chaos sounded familiar, well, it obviously did to someone at DC as well, because they used Zero Hour to tie the Team Titans future in with Armageddon 2001, which just so happened to have had a nearly identical plot. Turns out Monarch (Hawk, later Extant) created the Team Titans future as some kind of incubator universe to breed a race of superhuman foot-soldiers who could do his bidding in the event of Hal Jordan trying to collapse all of reality. But - heh! - that wacky Time Trapper secretly tampered with Monarch’s plans to create a group of Team Titans who would rebel against Monarch (then known as Extant) in order to foil his machinations - which they did, but no one cared.

So - let’s recap. DC, after the first Crisis, wasn’t supposed to have alternate timelines. Writers kept creating alternate futures, so they were all wiped out during Zero Hour. The Team Titans were wiped from existence, except for Terra and Nightshade, who were eventually revealed to be - stay with me! - a mindwiped version of the real Terra and a Brazilian street urchin. The sad thing is, if they had just waited a few years they could have just said “Hypertime” and everything would have been OK. Now every Titans book from this period makes no sense - actually, less than any sense. There is a debit of sense in these books.

This book was so good they needed to pull out two time-traveling dues ex machine super villains to straighten things out - one of them on loan from the Legion of Super-Heroes, no less. You know that if you need to borrow plot devices from the Legion in order to straighten out your continuity messes, you have definitely screwed up somewhere along the line.

And I can’t not mention the fact that everyone seems to be sporting a mullet in this comic book. I mean, Nightwing’s sporting the whole full-on Aqua Net Mötley Crüe mullet, Changeling’s got the old school “business in front, party in back” goin’ down . . . there’s some amazing hair in here.

Why, you ask, do I even own such a horrible comic? Well, I bought it a week ago in a quarter box, because the first story just happens to be drawn by one Mr. Adam Hughes.

Yeah, I know - he draws a lot of scantily-clad chicks. But you know what? I don’t care. He also happens to be one of the very best artists in mainstream comics. There’s a reason his women look so good - because he just plain knows how to draw really well. His guys are also quite hunky, but he doesn’t get paid to emphasize man-packages - he gets paid lots of money to accentuate cleavage. More men buy comics than women - can you blame Hughes for following the money? (Well, yeah, you can, but that’s a different story, probably one better suited to Cognitive Dissonance than Comics Should Be Good.)

Anyway, I’ll buy anything he draws, I freely admit this. I couldn’t care less who this Redwing person is whose origin he happens to be drawing here, I just know that it’s beautifully drawn. My god - the chiaroscuro is brilliant! Kevin Maquire always gets the credit for having expressive faces, but he’s nothing compared to Hughes, who doesn’t make everyone look like they’re mugging on a Vaudeville stage. His figures have mass and weight, and move through three-dimensions. It’s a shame he’s so damn slow - he makes a damn good living doing airbrushed pictures of Lara Croft and whatnot for Wizard, so it’s not like he has to stretch. But even his most gratuitous cheesecake stuff is gorgeous to look at.

Incidentally, I’m surprised no one has picked up on Bob Schreck’s pretty-unsubtle inference that Hughes is going to be drawing an All-Star Wonder Woman in the near future. The whole “There are tortoises and hares. We have a lot of tortoises and very few hares”, seems like a pretty dead giveaway to me. I mean, seriously, who else would you get to draw the book? Even if it takes him forever and a day to draw a single page, you just know it’ll be gorgeous when all is said and done. I’ll probably end up buying that, too, even if they get Brian Pulido and Jim Balent to tag-team the writing."

Check out Tim O'Neil's blog, The Hurting.

He is still alive, and writing cool things on it.

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Blogger T. said...

I thought Kevin Maguire was the artist on this series,

8/10/2005 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

Just googled it. It WAS Kevin Maguire. Kinda funny how you mention Hughe's expressive faces are way better than Maguire's, not realizing you're actually reviewing Maguire!

8/10/2005 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

T, Tim is referring to Redwing's origin story, which was drawn by Hughes.

8/10/2005 06:54:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

My bad, that's what I get for skimming at work.

8/10/2005 07:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Vincent J. Murphy said...

The problem with the Titans books during this period can be summed up with two words: Jonathan Peterson. This hack was the editor of the New Titans book and clearly wanted his own X-Men like franchise, with multiple Titan teams.

While the writing at the time was also somewhat stale (Wolfman on the New Titans overstayed his welcome), I blame Peterson for pretty much flushing the comic down the toilet.

There's a really good interview with Peterson from that era up at Titans' Tower.

8/10/2005 10:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Morts said...

One of my "favorite" things about the Team Titans is how their origins keep changing.

Dagon/Nightrider had at [b]least[/b] four origins in the span of a year.

Oh, and they weren't from 1999. They were from a post-Monarch era, so that makes them from at least 2001.

Geek, I know.

8/11/2005 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

Honestly, I don't blame Peterson. I think the problems with Titans stemmed from the very beginning, and once the novelty of the new team and great visuals wore off fans started to realize it. From the beginning, these were just a bunch of snot-nosed whiners that had inferiority complexes, got their butts kicked by everyone except nameless henchmen and cried and talked about their feelings.

That'd be okay in the beginning if they started like that and grew as characters and were forged into an elite fighting force worthy of inheriting the JLA mantle, but Wolfman never got past that inferiority fixation. What reader on earth would want to stick with that nonstop self-pitying without any redeeming characteristics? Only die-hard ones. Everyone else leaves. The X-Men, for example, despite the whole "hated and feared" lamentations, were still badass and kicked major bad guy butt.

So yeah, I don't think the editor made the book worse, it's just that it was never really as good as everyone thought.

8/11/2005 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous John DiBello said...

Great guest post.

This series and its interlocking continuity involving two other series was the beginning of my comics-collecting rule that "If it's not immediately obvious how I can store the comics in order in a long box and then be able to find the whole story again later, I'm dropping that title/character."

Same thing happened with Spider-Man during the Clone Saga and the X-men during that Phalanx storyline. Yeah, I'm the rat leaping off the Titanic at the first sight of ice tinkling in a cocktail glass, I am.

8/11/2005 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger Tim O'Neil said...

You only quit the X-books when they did that Phalanx story? Wow, you're a masochist!

8/11/2005 04:07:00 PM  
Anonymous John DiBello said...

Actually, I quit UNCANNY X-MEN the first time around issue #237 (exactly 100 issues after I started) in the story when Rogue lost her powers and was raped (don't give me "molested," she was raped) in a prison. But that doesn't count, it only made me drop one book, not the whole line of titles it later would.

I foolishly climbed back up on the bandwagon a couple years later. Me and the X-Folks have some disfunctional issues to work though. Like my parents, perhaps it's best if we just see each other once a year, at Thanksgiving, eying each other suspiciously over the cranberries.

8/11/2005 04:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Kelson said...

Just a point of correction... Team Titans actually grew out of Armageddon 2001. They were the future Teen Titans from that annual, and at the end they were sent back in time to the present to kill Donna Troy.

The cover said something about "What is their connection to Monarch? The answer will SHOCK you!" The answer was, of course, never revealed in the issue. Looking back, I suspect that they were always intended to have been brought together by Monarch, but DC decided to keep them around instead of leaving them as a one-off, so they replaced the artwork on the last page with a generic, pixellated head on a viewscreen.

And actually people's reactions to the new Terra were dealt with, though I guess they must have been in the regular New Titans series. It's been a looong time since I read that part of the series.

8/13/2005 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Tim O'Neil said...

Wow. Kelson knows a lot more about the Titans than I ever did.

8/15/2005 03:57:00 AM  

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